The word ‘Stein’ literally means ‘stone’ in German. A real authentic German beer stein made of ceramic, crystal, glass, metal, or wood is highly valuable and ranges in size from 1 ounce (29.5 ml) to more than 8 gallons (30 l).
However, it is not easy to recognize the real stuff among numerous cheap copies, and it can be a bit complicated for a layman to make a difference. Unfortunately, many tourists buy the beer stein as a souvenir and find out that they have been cheated once they return home. So, let’s see how to tell if a beer stein is valuable.
What is German Beer Stein
The etymology of the German word ‘stein’ is not entirely clear, but it probably originated from one of two terms:
Stein Krug – It means ‘stone mug’
Steingut – It means ‘stone goods’
The most common pieces were made of:
In most cases, old mugs are hand-painted and beautifully decorated. You can find steins that range from 1 ounce (29.5 ml) to 8.4 gallons (32 l) in volume. However, the typical volume of the most popular pieces is 16.9 ounces (0.5 l).
The oldest saved German earthenware beer steins were dated from the 14th century when the bubonic plague killed millions of people in Europe. The first pieces were made after passing the law in a few German principalities related to sanitary conditions. It required the covers over food and beverage containers to prevent a vicious disease.
Until that time, the upper class drank from beakers or tankards made of silver, glass, and pewter, while common folk used mugs made of wood and earthenware. However, the Black Death changed many established customs.
Once stoneware was created, old manufacturers started making stoneware drinking steins with pewter lids. In the 19th century, the stein officially became a product made in Europe. The most common were stoneware pieces with a permanently attached lid.
Nowadays, you can also find pewter vessels produced in England, but their manufacturers commonly used silver, glass, and porcelain. The best of all was the diversity of stein-decorating styles that reflected the time’s best artisans’ imagination and skill.
The most prominent pottery centers were Siegburg, Cologne, Frechen, and Kreussen. Stein production upswing tremendously in the 1850s, but most stein makers limited it during World War I because of the raw material shortage.
Even though stein making started again after 1918, most people stopped using them daily. Consequently, the production never reached the previous level. Thanks to modern technology and contemporary materials, many companies produce beautiful steins these days, mostly as souvenirs.
Age of the German Beer Stein
Beer steins are a German favored gift for centuries, and you can find the date that it was given on the lid. However, it can be tricky to rely on this information when it is necessary to determine the item’s age.
Unfortunately, it is not rare that someone attaches an old lid to a new stein. These dates have sense only when the other mug traits are also consistent.
German beer stein
You should also pay attention to a four-digit number on the stein side or base that begins with 17, 18, or 19. It is not a date but a form or mold number.
German Beer Stein Types
You can choose among various German beer steins that are differently painted. The most beautiful include:
This popular, hand-carved, and bold colored collectible pieces contain patriotic scenes or folk tales. They are almost always precious.
It is possible to find pieces with highly realistic and detailed human and animal carvings. They are highly appreciated and valued, but you should have ivory trade restrictions and legalities on your mind before shopping.
These authentic German steins with soldiers’ names and ranks were made to commemorate the successful completion of active duty. The old pieces include the owner’s last name and status, while modern models contain their first and last name and soldier rank.
Hand blown steins are probably the earliest pieces produced. You can find green, red, cobalt, and brown varieties on the market.
The production of these personalized steins began in the 1850s. They were made in the human, animal, or item shape.
The Villeroy and Boch Co. of Mettlach produced undoubtedly the most prestigious stoneware hand-painted pieces you can find nowadays. Most of them were made between 1880 and 1910.
The most popular stoneware beer steins are both stylish and durable, and you can find numerous shape styles, including:
- Traditional stein
- Bavarian stein
- Barrel stein
- Potbelly stein
- Tavern stein
- Lodge stein
- Pint Glass
The Real vs. Fake German Beer Stein
German beer stein
It is hand-painted – Always carefully examine the stein for imperfections and raised design. The older steins interior is never perfect, and you can spot a hand-painted, slightly raised design on the bottom. Also, pictures are modest, often with angels, and you can’t find any nudity, for example.
A mass-produced piece is almost always machine-made and painted parts look flawless. However, the colors are blurred and of lower intensity.
It tells a story – Each old illustration tells some story. The most valuable includes:
- Biblical figures
- Historical event
- Famous battle
Material – Original German beer steins are always heavy and made of expensive materials, such as ivory, silver, and glass. The modern, imported models you can find online are light and made of low-quality clay.
Bump on the handle
Until the 1920s, steins didn’t have bumps on the handle. Pieces with grooves or bumps for fingers are modern and probably not worth much.
The best stein manufactures have easily-recognizable marks, and you can find their list in many available databases. In fact, all steins intended for export and produced after the ‘Merchandise Marks Act’ valid in Germany since 1887 were marked. There were two options, ‘Made in Germany’ or only ‘Germany.’
Keep in mind that the mark absence doesn’t mean the stein you look at is false. Most pieces created for the domestic market didn’t need to be marked. You can also find models marked with ‘Western Germany,’ meaning that they are produced from 1949 to 1990.
Some manufacturers tend to be unique so that you can find different mark types on beer steins, such as:
- Data pressed into the wet clay
- Sticker-like marks laid before baking
- Limited, collector pieces with hand-written marks
The most common mark is ‘Gemacht in Deutschland’ (Made in Germany) when it comes to old glass steins.
According to the lid shape and appearance, you can quickly determine the stein age, quality, and price. The original metal lids are cast from one piece, while copies are poorly created from three or four separate casts.
The next thing to check is the edges and the lid inside. Cheap varieties have a very rough lid look without a stamp. Be careful because you can sometimes face a Chinese stein with an original German lid with a pressed stamp.
Keep in mind that the lid’s soft metal will darken on the air over time. However, its inside is always lighter than the outside. Plus, almost all German steins have a thumb lift, unlike cheap replica.
The most common lid shapes include:
- Ornamental lids – Such pieces are always created of pewter. The handwork ones are trendy nowadays for limited edition steins.
- Inlay lids – They are well-known for an ornament stoneware, porcelain, glass, or wood figurine inlaid in the center and surrounded by a pewter flange and pewter rim.
- Conical or steeple lids – They are the most common and cheapest models you can buy.
- Flat lids – These models made of pewter are popular since the manufactures can effortlessly engrave them.
Since this stein part has changed over time, you can use it to determine the stein dating and pricing.
German Stein Value
You can find an antique German beer stein at a price range from $50 to $5,000. The precise information about the particular piece can make a difference of thousands of dollars.
For example, a 17th-century American tankard, which belonged to one family for generations, was sold for $140,000. On the other hand, a Marzi & Remy stein from the 1850s without proof of origin reached only $150.
Another thing is stein’s condition. The most valuable pieces are:
- Intact and without too many dents and cracks, especially damage to the front
- Without evident repair work and unattractive discolorations
- With clear original decorations
- With working hinge on lid
Steins are German mugs created for drinking beer. Over the years, manufacturers have used silver, pewter, crystal, glass, porcelain, ceramics, creamware, ivory, and wood to make gorgeous pieces.
Be careful when deciding to buy one and always check its age, quality, and value since there are too many reproductions available on the market nowadays.